Patrick Ochs

Is this the 'new normal'? Ole Miss certainly hopes so

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Chad Kelly and Laquon Treadwell celebrate in a shower of red and blue confetti after Ole Miss defeated OSU at All State Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Chad Kelly and Laquon Treadwell celebrate in a shower of red and blue confetti after Ole Miss defeated OSU at All State Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. SUN HERALD

NEW ORLEANS

Enough probably can't be said about the state of Ole Miss' football program in 2011.

It was in shambles with no immediate prospects of hope. The Rebels were adrift without a rudder.

Enter Hugh Freeze.

By the time the last bit of the red and blue confetti had fallen to the turf at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday, the Rebels were Sugar Bowl champs for the first time since 1970.

"To go through what we went through -- Coach Freeze talked about it pregame. He called us out by name. He watched the tape," senior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "My freshman year, LSU took a knee (with 5 minutes remaining). I know we talk about that all the time, but people don't understand how hard it is and how dedicated a group of guys have to be to get from where we were to where we are now."

So now that the Rebels are Sugar Bowl champs, what's next?

Under Freeze, the Rebels have won seven, eight, nine and now 10 games in each of his seasons. Is an 11-win season a possibility?

Maybe.

The good feelings can -- and are -- fleeting. It didn't take long for Freeze to field questions about the 2016 season.

The Rebels will lose a handful of guys early to the NFL draft. Plus a handful of impactful seniors like Johnson, Trae Elston and Mike Hilton.

Before long the Rebel staff will be back out on the road, looking to solidify its second elite recruiting class under Freeze and replenish a roster that could potentially lose three top 15 draft picks.

Is the Rebels' success sustainable?

Freeze certainly thinks so.

"We have high expectations for ourselves," he said. "The Ole Miss brand now is probably as strong as it has ever been. We think we have an environment that is attractive to a lot of certain type of people that want to do something now and fresh at a different place than has been done before. You have to continue to recruit at a high level and I see no reason why we shouldn't stay relevant in the Southeastern Conference now. And what that means from year to year, you never know because it's such a grinder, but I'm excited. I think this is a new normal."

You might think that's just talk. Caught up in the emotions that come with winning the Sugar Bowl in convincing fashion. The sweat hadn't even dried from the program's first 10-win season since 2003.

But, it's not just talk. The Rebels currently have the nation's No. 1 quarterback and left tackle committed in Shea Patterson and Greg Little. They're in the running for a handful of other elite recruits and are currently atop Rivals.com's team recruiting rankings.

At this point it seems clear top recruits in the Southeast are buying into what Freeze and his staff is selling.

"Regardless of who leaves and who stays, the way our coaches recruit and the way our fans love our program, we're going to keep getting talent and we're going to keep getting better," Johnson said, confetti still resting on his shoulder pads. "I hope everybody took notice tonight that we're here."

Is this as good as it can get for Ole Miss? Or is this the new normal?

Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at pochs@sunherald.com or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald

  Comments